Thirteen Reasons Why
Suicide is not an easy subject to tackle in a novel, so I have to give Jay Asher credit for coming up with a creative way of doing so, even though Thirteen Reasons Why (a current Young Adult release from Razor Bill Books, a Penguin imprint) left me somewhat frustrated and less than fully satisfied. Clay Jensen is a nice guy. A high school senior, in the running for valedictorian, he is frankly puzzled to learn that his classmate Hannah Baker has committed suicide and then both fascinated and appalled when he receives a battered shoe box containing seven audio cassette tapes recorded by his dead classmate. The tapes purport to explain Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide to the people she feels are responsible. And Clay has no idea at all how it is he made that list.
According to the author interview included in an appendix, Asher conceived of the novel’s format some years ago when listening to an audio tour at a museum and being struck by the feeling of the disembodied voice describing only for him the work before him, and only later decided to use that format for this particular book. Asher writes well and to be fair the book is engaging, however unlike the narrator who frequently found himself feeling badly that he had not made more effort to get to know the dead girl, I found myself frankly angry at her for creating this audio-taped prelude to her death and allowing it to be found and heard only after she has passed on.
The publisher, it appears, did have some concern about the possibility of the book inspiring copycat suicides, and there is on the dust jacket an 800 number and web site offering counseling and support to anyone feeling suicidal. Apart from suicide itself, the novel’s theme revolves around the unintended consequences of each of our actions toward each other and Asher attempts to bring home the idea that each and every one of us are connected and our actions always, always, have consequences we could never conceive of. While I do believe that we should as a society be much more open to talking about suicide and certainly agree with Mr. Asher that our actions inevitably have unintended consequences, in the end I’m afraid I just really didn’t like the book.
The publisher has posted a You Tube page where you can view a video tape of the first recipient finding and listening to the first tape. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Not Recommended. Buy now only $11.95